RM: Tell me about your time at Stax Records in Memphis.
Bell: I started my career there at a very early age, just a teenager. I had a vocal group called the Del Rios. We did some backup work behind Carla Thomas on a record called “Gee Whiz,” which was Carla’s first big million-seller. Then we cut a couple of singles as a vocal group, and nothing monumental happened. So, I was drafted into the military, and before I left, I was asked to do a single recording. I cut the record in ’60, but they released it in ’61. It was “You Don’t Miss Your Water.”
RM: What was it like to start your own record label, Wilbe Records?
Bell: I decided I’d take my fate into my own hands. I spent a lot of behind-the-scenes time at record labels in production when I was not performing.
RM: I have to ask you about Otis Redding.
Bell: Yes, oh, Otis and I were good friends from day one, and we traveled and toured together. We rode in the same cars and everything. We had some great times. After the tours, we’d hang around in Atlanta or Macon [Georgia], hang with normal people like us.
RM: How did you and Booker T. Jones write “Born Under a Bad Sign”?
Bell: I’d just finished my recording session, and Albert King came in for his session, so I stayed around to watch. He’d recorded a couple of songs, but he didn’t have enough songs to finish the session, so [Stax co-founder] Jim Stewart asked me if I had a song that Albert could do. I’d been kicking “Born Under a Bad Sign” around in my head. I had a bass line and a chorus, and so I did that one verse and the chorus, and they loved it. So, Booker and I left the studio and went to his house, played on his keyboard, finished it up overnight, and came back the next day. And as they say, the rest is history.
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